B16 sez…

January 27, 2010 1 comment

that I need to get off my butt and start posting more! OK, he actually only encouraged priests to blog. But still, I like to think of his recent World Communications Day message as some sort of papal benediction on my erstwhile New Year’s resolution, even if I’ve been too swamped with papers to post much over the past few days. Don’t give up on me yet; things are slowing down a bit academically, and I’ve got a lot in the hopper. Now that the semester has really gotten started, I doubt you’ll be seeing a daily post from me, but I will try to maintain a relatively regular schedule (obviously, all bets are off during midterms and finals).

But, to keep you entertained in the meantime, read NPR’s article (via Fr. James Martin at America Magazine) on the Pope’s recent message. Actually, it’s really more of a satire (as evidenced by the title, “Give Us This Day Thy Daily Post”), with tips for the Holy Father from several prominent Catholic bloggers should he decide to start his own blog. Enjoy!

Imagine the pope, dressed in his white robes and his half-moon glasses, hunched over his laptop — blogging. We don’t know whether Benedict XVI will soon start a blog, but he does have a Facebook page.

In a recent message, he showed his interest in new technologies when he called on priests to “proclaim the Gospel” through blogs, videos and Web sites.

The call to blog took a lot of people by surprise. After all, the 82-year-old from Bavaria is better known for his conservative doctrine and revival of the Latin Mass than for his computer savvy. At first, the Rev. James Martin was startled as well. Martin is the author of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything and blogs each day for the Catholic magazine America. Then Martin thought, surely Jesus would blog if he were on the Earth today.

“He didn’t sit around and wait for people to come to him,” Martin observes. “He went out and met people by the Sea of Galilee who were fishing. He went to tax collectors’ booths. He went into synagogues. He went all over the place. And so we need to, figuratively speaking, go out to the ends of the Earth — which includes the blogosphere.”

Bloggers Give The Pope Advice

The pope has not announced his own blog. But if he does, he might be wise to listen to the experts.

“As a blogger, let me say, I have some advice for his holiness,” says Elizabeth Scalia, who writes a blog calledThe Anchoress, which appears on the Web site of the Catholic magazine First Things. “The first being: If I link to you, you must link back to me. There are rules of reciprocation.”

Scalia, who is no relation to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, adds that the pope should aim high.

“He should try to get linked by the bigger blogs,” she advises. “He should try to be linked by, for example,Instapundit and the Huffington Post. Because if gets the exposure there, then he can up his blog ad rates.”

Presumably, ad revenue isn’t high on the pope’s list, although there are a few bankrupt dioceses in the U.S. that could use the money. Scalia says while blogging isn’t heavy lifting — you rarely get out of your chair, she says — the pope should prepare himself for the unrelenting pressure to post.

“You have to blog every day,” she says. “And he’s an 80-something-year-old guy, so maybe he’s not always going to want to blog.”

One solution: “He should have some favorite YouTube videos that he can just slap up there when he’s feeling kind of tired. Like the parade scene from Ferris Bueller,” she says, referring to the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Slap that up there and that’s a day’s blogging.”

Hot Links, Comments And Tweets

Of course, a blogging pope would also have to adjust to not only the pace but also the style of the Internet. Benedict is a German theologian famous for his long academic treatises peppered with footnotes. How to adapt?

“Think hot links, not footnotes,” advises Martin. “He can write a couple of paragraphs on, say, St. Augustine, or Origen [of Alexandria], or St. Athanasius. And instead of having 50 footnotes, have 50 hot links. People tend to like that on the blogosphere.”

Martin has another piece of advice: Be charitable. The Internet can be vicious, but the pope must refrain from ad hominem attacks, which, Martin says, the pope probably knows as a Christian. But should the pope allow comments?

“Only if he has a thick skin,” Martin says, laughing. “I would say there are two kinds of angry people. There are angry people, and then there are religiously angry people. And the religiously angry people tend to be angrier than the angry people.”

Still, David Weinberger, who writes about politics and culture on Joho the Blog, sees some dangers ahead. He says if the pope wants to spread the Christian message, he might be surprised at the result.

“Putting a message out over the Internet is exactly the same thing as losing total control of your message,” he says. “People take it up, they republish it, they make fun of it, they contextualize it. The simple message becomes incredibly complex because of all the ideas that are pulled out and linked to it. That means that the very thing that you wanted in your message was control and what you ended up with was the opposite of control.”

Which raises the question: Can something as nuanced as God’s word be tweeted?

“Trying to boil things down into tweetable form has a long history” in religion, he says.

Weinberger cites a theologian of his own tradition: Moses, who wrote the Ten Commandments on a couple of tablets. All those commandments — do not murder, do not lie, do not steal, etc. — can easily be boiled down to Twitter’s 140 character limit.

What about the Sermon on the Mount? That will require a hyperlink.

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Weekend music post

January 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been busy this weekend so I haven’t had time to do much non-academic writing, but I thought I’d continue my semi-tradition of sharing my favorite pieces of sacred music. Today’s is the Kyrie from the Missa Papae Marcelli (Mass for Pope Marcellus), by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. I’m no expert in music history, but I think it’s safe to say that the Missa Papae Marcelli set the standard for all future polyphonic chant compositions. It is, quite simply, sublime.

Kýrie, eléison; Christé, eléison; Kýrie, eléison.

“Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.”

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January 22, 2010 1 comment

While most of this week’s news focused on the Massachusetts Senate race, the collapse of health care reform, and President Obama’s proposals for stricter financial regulation, there’s one story that will have much more important and far-reaching consequences. The Supreme Court, in the majority opinion for Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, struck down several important restrictions on election spending by corporations. In doing so, they reaffirmed the doctrine of “corporate personhood,” which essentially holds that a corporation is considered to be a person under the law and is therefore entitled to all of the rights and protections thereof, including those guaranteed by the First Amendment.

There’s a lot that can be written about this (as well as about the fact that US law grants personhood to corporations but not to unborn human beings), but I’d like to start with a question: is the doctrine of corporate personhood acceptable under the modern social teaching of the Catholic Church? Because to me, it seems inimical to the Christian humanism that underlies these teachings, especially as articulated by Popes John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI.

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Sign me up NOW!

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

From Erin Manning (hat tip to Mark Shea):

A long while ago, a reader of this blog asked what my “Member, Coalition for Clarity/Because Torture is Intrinsically Evil” item on my sidebar meant. Was there a group called “Coalition for Clarity?” Who were its members?

Truth is, the group is (thus far) fictional. I put the sidebar item (and the picture that I hope is okay to use, but will remove if it’s not) up as a statement of my principles on torture, which are as follows:

1. Torture is intrinsically evil. Period. We’re not entitled to do it, not under “ticking time bomb” or any other scenarios, just as we’re not permitted to engage in acts of rape, murder, etc. under “ticking time bomb” scenarios. What is intrinsically evil may not be done.

2. Catholics especially have a moral obligation to stand against torture. Whatever may have been done or excused or tolerated in the past, Catholics today are not in a position where they may pretend to ignorance about the Church’s teachings on torture. The Church’s teachings include this, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong.Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputationsmutilations, and sterilizationsperformed on innocent persons are against the moral law.91

2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

3. The enumeration of the following in the definition of torture above: “…to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred…” in no way implies that torture may be used for other reasons, including interrogation; there is also no “good guys exception” which permits torture by the “good guys” in order to prevent worse acts of terror or war by the “bad guys.” Though this seems blindingly obvious to me, I never cease to be amazed at the number of Catholics who would swear to both an “enhanced interrogation exception” or a “good guys exception” in the Church’s discussion of torture.

4. Most of what is called “enhanced interrogation” is, in fact, torture. Waterboarding, cold cells, sleep deprivation, and the like are torture tactics. In one of the late Fulton Sheen’s books, he includes a picture of a Soviet “torture cell” which is a small room in which every surface is made impossible to sit or lie down on (including the floor) in various ways (e.g., covered in spikes, slanted at a steep angle, etc.) so that the prisoner had to stand, hour after weary hour, in the tiny bit of clear floor space. We had no problem seeing this for what it was–torture–when the former U.S.S.R. was the entity responsible for it–but now, all of a sudden, that sort of thing’s just dandy so long as the Stars and Stripes are flying overhead?

5. I owe most of my understanding of the torture issue to this man, and I’m grateful for his persistent and (mostly) patient explanations as to why Catholics can’t support torture, full stop. Any Catholic who is wrestling with the issue in good conscience would do well to search Mark’s blog for his many posts on the subject. I do believe it is possible for Catholics to wrestle with this issue in good conscience. Certainly we believe in the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty. The problem with torture is that it does not really involve either; the person being tortured has generally been deprived of his legal rights, has not had a trial, has not been judged guilty; the innocent are quite likely not to be protected at all by the torture of a prisoner, and the prisoner himself may turn out to be innocent of terror activities or ties. We can’t morally decide that torture is a solution to any problem.

Should there be a Coalition for Clarity? I think there should be, and that Catholic bloggers who, regardless of their political leanings, are firm in the conviction that torture is intrinsically evil and may not be condoned under any circumstances should be vocal about saying so. It’s especially necessary given Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts’ views on torture, and the way those views are already being spun by what Mark Shea likes to call the “Rubber-hose Right.” As someone who often votes for Republicans, it is absolutely unconscionable to me that the Republican Party or any observer of it would decide that my vote was a vote for torture, and I would rather see Republicans lose every election from here to kingdom come than have there be the slightest bit of confusion as to the utter moral repugnance of torture to many of us who have reluctantly supported the GOP for their stance on other issues.

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Happy anniversary, Mr. President

January 20, 2010 1 comment

Today is the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration. I thought I’d share two old but still funny JibJab videos, one from the ’08 campaign and one from June 2009. Unfortunately, I’m too much of a tech doofus to embed them, so you’ll have to click the links.

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Why I’m attending the March for Life

January 20, 2010 1 comment

A lot of people give me funny looks when I tell them that I’m planning to attend the March for Life this Friday. On the one hand, many of my pro-life friends know that I am a Democrat. They see me on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog saying largely positive things about a pro-choice President, and, I imagine, wonder if I really care about the unborn. On the other hand, my pro-choice friends, including most of the people with whom I work on a daily basis advocating for other more “progressive” issues, see me on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog saying very critical things about their position (though I hope it goes without saying that I respect them all and always, always assume their personal good faith on this and other issues). I imagine that they sometimes think I’m a dogmatic jerk out to impose my religious beliefs on the country and put women in burqas, and/or a pompous young punk who worries about abstract philosophical principles while callously dismissing the very real needs and concerns of women who find themselves in desperate situations. So I want to take a moment to articulate why I identify with the pro-life movement (even though I think that many of its political tactics are short-sighted and wrongheaded), and why I am marching on Friday. I’m not going to rehash the entire argument in defense of my position; I’m just going to say what my position is.

Essentially, I will be marching on Friday because I do not believe that the wealthiest, most generous nation on Earth should have to choose between the needs of mothers and the rights of their children. I do not believe that we should have to choose between protecting the rights of the born and those of the unborn. I believe that the dichotomy that is represented by the abortion debate–the notion that one can stand up for the unborn or stand up for women, and not both–is a tragic lie (and one that both sides, in their own ways, are responsible for perpetuating).

I know that this issue is not an abstract one; I know that, as President Obama often says, no woman faces the prospect of having an abortion lightly. I know that many who find themselves in such situations have to worry about whether they can financially support another child; some have undergone the trauma of rape or incest; and some are under intense pressure from husbands, boyfriends, or parents to “do away with” their “problem.”

But ultimately I cannot accept that violence is the answer to tragedies like this. Ultimately I believe that the violence of abortion compounds, rather than fixes, the tragedy. Ultimately I believe that to say to a woman, “Just get an abortion and everything will be fine,” is the easy way out, a way of neglecting the larger questions about the socioeconomic conditions that brought her to the point where she would even consider such a wholly unnatural act. In short, I believe, to paraphrase the motto of Feminists for Life, that all of us, especially women, deserve better than abortion. Life, no matter what stage it’s at and no matter how bad the circumstances of its conception are, is beautiful. And that is why I’ll be marching on Friday with 300,000 Americans–men and women, young and old, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, of every race and religion–because regardless of my differences with some of them on other issues, they believe the same thing. America can do better.

PS: Before the March, I’ll be attending the annual breakfast hosted by Democrats for Life, an organization that (along with Feminists for Life) does a lot of great work intended to help address the socioeconomic conditions that have led to the prevalence of abortion in our society. Should be a great event. If you’re interested, sign up here.

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My thoughts on elections

January 19, 2010 2 comments

Now that I’ve gotten over the shock of seeing a Republican win in Massachusetts, here’s my basic position on this election, and the upcoming midterms:

The Republican Party, to be quite honest, scares the hell out of me. The party’s positions on torture and preemptive war border on fascism, and I don’t mean that as hyperbole (and don’t even get me started on Catholics who try to defend those positions). Its base has become ever more radical, and its leaders and candidates (including Scott Brown) openly court such fringe elements as the blatantly racist “birthers.” On economic issues, they, with no apparent sense of irony, attempt to convince Americans that the same policies (tax cuts and deregulation) that got us into the current crisis will get us out. No amount of empty posturing on abortion will convince me that the Republican Party’s vision for America is not extremely, extremely dangerous. It is with great trepidation that I look at the prospect of them taking over the legislative and/or executive branches.

With all of that said, I honestly cannot say that the Democratic Party is that much more deserving of my support. I say that as someone who agrees with probably ninety percent of their platform. Its officeholders’ willingness to give up on health care reform due to the results of one special election demonstrates that, with rare exceptions, they are less interested in actually effecting positive change than they are in maintaining their jobs. Of course, from my perspective, it doesn’t really help that the party is wholly in the pockets of NARAL and Planned Parenthood.

So what will I do this November? I don’t know yet. My votes, of course, will be based not on party affiliation, but on my assessment of each candidate’s relative merits. But I do know that, one way or another, I am more fearful for the future of my country than I was even in the darkest days of the Bush Administration.

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